The Counterfeit Sex (1968)

Ben Carter
Rapture Publishing 223

Book 100 for the year!

From the cover, this has to be a light-hearted romp through the exotic worlds of transvestism and/or transsexualism...but no!  Instead, it is about sex within the high stakes world of actual counterfeiters, as in those who print fake money.  International crime master in Switzerland needs new printing plates for his latest scheme.  Wary of his plate-maker, he sends his mistress and #1 muscle guy to Miami to pick up the goods.  Meanwhile, in Chicago, the master platemaker is sure his client plans to kill him, so he sends his mistress and #1 muscle guy to Miami to deliver the goods and get the money.  Strangely, then, the book is about two capital managers employing sex and muscle to do their bidding by proxy, rather like real life.  By the end, no one stays with who they arrived with--but that should be obvious, I guess.

The Partridge Family #5: Terror by Night (1971)

Vic Crume
Curtis Books

Everyone's favorite busload of exploited child labor has a month to kill before embarking on their big fall tour, leading Mom to take out a month's lease on a remote beach home near Cape Cod.  Coming with the property is the cook and her weird and extremely off-putting daughter, Prudence, who in addition to being freakishly skinny also carries a black cat with her everywhere she goes.  As the Partridges look to unwind, strange things begin happening all around them.  Keith and Laurie Partridge find a mannequin hanging from a tree with a sign that says, "Welcome."  Later they find the phone wires to the cabin have been cut.  Because he's an irresponsible teen-idol dick, Keith is determined to solve the mystery without revealing any of these disturbing clues to his mother--after all, she would only "freak out" and cut the vacation short.  At one point most of the family piles onto the bus to tour Salem, Massachusetts, and we learn that the cook and her weird daughter are generally shunned in the local community for a historical association with witchcraft.  What seems supernatural, threatening, and portending of the abyss becomes, once again in true Udolpho style, something much more worldly.  Also, the Partridges take time to rehearse tunes for the tour--but you have to just imagine this in your head as no actual titles or lyrics are provided. 

I should also like to point out, in case anyone finds it interesting and/or enigmatic, that Terror by Night and The Haunted Hall (Partridge Family #2) are without a doubt the most commonly encountered titles in what ended up being a 15 or so part publishing series.  Go into any used book store (if you can find one), and these are the two most likely Partridge reading products you will find.  Why, one wonders?  Were they much more popular than the others, leading to bigger print runs?  Unlikely--each book is pretty much like all the others.  Are they particularly terrible, thus leading to their quick donation to thrift stores and bookshops?  Again, unlikely, for the same reason.  Did ABC overproduce these two titles as part of some larger promotional campaign, perhaps as a tie-in to the new season or as an elementary school giveaway?  Who knows?  It remains one of the many mysteries of cultural production and popular circulation that must remain unanswered.

GPS Jesus

One of the most popular ways to express a certain playful resistance to the solemnity of the holidays, beloved by teenage boys and satanists alike, is to sneak over to the local church and steal Baby Jesus from the nativity scene.  It's somewhat like those college football pranksters who break into a campus building to steal their foe's badger, pony, or warthog the night before the big game, only here the prize is Christianity's most cherished mascot abducted in anticipation of the faith's Superbowl of religious holidays.  In both cases, it's hard to imagine why anyone gets all that upset.  Aggie the Fightin' Collie is usually returned, unscathed, the next day.  And how much could a plastic Jesus cost? (and if your church is spending thousands on a fully animatronic Jesus to occupy the manger three weeks a year, perhaps it's time to re-evaluate its spending priorities). 

Still, some get very mad when this Halloween style prank intrudes into the Christmas season, perhaps because the offenders provoke an implicit religious crisis by typically escaping without being reduced to nothing more than a pair of smoking sneakers in the wake of a timely lightning strike. Jesus theft has apparently become such a problem that a number of companies are now donating free GPS protection for nativity scenes.  One such outfit, Brick House Security, recently sent out an email titled "Nobody F's with Jesus" (no, really, they did).  Another, SpyGadgets, offers nervous parishioners the use of its patented "BlackOps" GPS technology--honoring a plastic facsimile of the Lord by placing Him under the watchful eye of a technology named after those who sneak behind enemy lines and slit the throats of godless adversaries ("Nobody F's with Jesus" indeed!).  The entire set-up evokes images of priests and pastors retreating to a bunker under the altar where they can slam the lo-jack on those who would light-finger the Lord.  

“I couldn’t help but feel like these types of pranks were cruel and costly, especially at that time of year” sayeth the President of Brick House Security.  “Not only do they damage the spirit of the holiday, but they also leave communities feeling vulnerable and mistrustful, right when we’re in the midst of a season that’s all about spreading goodwill.”  The head of SpyGadgets is even more outraged: "Why anyone would want to steal a public display of something people hold very sacred is a question I've tried to answer repeatedly. Instead of sitting idly by, we decided to send a clear message by offering GPS Trackers to those who wouldn't normally be able to afford them....With Geo Fence technology, users are able to sleep well at night knowing that should their asset get stolen, the window between the theft and recovery is drastically reduced."

Both companies have attracted a lot of free publicity for their acts of Christian charity, effortlessly integrating both the commercial and religious spirit of the holiday (offer free GPS to the Lord as a "loss leader" tithe so that one can later soak those worried about preserving their vast empires of material possessions--like those idiots who every year at this time drive a red German luxury car--festooned with ribbon and bow--into a pristinely moderne white living room to surprise their spouses).  

Still, one has to marvel at the odd paradox of this gesture.  GPS Jesus serves primarily as a panoptic deterrent (each system apparently comes with a sign warning would-be thieves that this particular Jesus is wearing a wire--steal Him and we will find you).  As in Bentham's famous prison, we are meant to police ourselves into not yielding to the temptation of stealing Baby Jesus (indeed, all one really needs is the GPS warning sign, not the actual chip itself).

Or, perhaps, all one needs is a conscience.  

Call me crazy, but this GPS campaign--uniformly celebrated across the press--strikes me as a landmark moment in the intertwining histories of Christianity and technocratic administration.  It seems at one point in the not too distant past we imbued both God and Santa Claus with the power of omniscient, panoptic vision, the power to "see you" when both "naughty" (masturbating, presumably) and "nice" (baking cookies for orphans, perhaps, or donating GPS systems to the local parish).   The introduction of GPS Jesus suggests that this investment in moral omniscience, a supernatural superego on high, may at last be dead.  Most of us eventually figure out that Santa Claus does not actually exist (whoops...spoiler alert).  Even so, those who practice Christian faith are required, by faith I think, to believe that God sees all, knows all, and will eventually judge all.  In such a scenario, shouldn't people be allowed either to find redemption or fall from faith by confronting their own culpability in the act of stealing or not stealing plastic Jesus, a moral choice unencumbered by the threat of technological surveillance? (In a related question, is it only a "sin" if one actually steals plastic Jesus, or is the very act of contemplating the deed--even if unrealized--a sin in and of itself?)

What do we lose by replacing the "Eye of God" with a satellite "eye in the sky?"  Perhaps a teenager allowed to steal Baby Jesus without the threat of mortal GPS-justice would feel intense remorse, leading to a more profound conversion experience and a stronger sense of faith.   Then again, someone might steal Baby Jesus to desecrate on a Satanic altar; in which case, how better to segregate those we would prefer to not have near us in the better neighborhoods of the afterlife? 

A more confident Christianity would simply post a sign: "Steal Our Savior and Burn in Hell."  A Christianity rattled by its two hundred year encounter with scientific rationalism and secular humanism instead entrusts a satellite to make sure no one "f's" with Jesus (shouldn't Jesus, or perhaps His Father, make sure no one "f's" with Jesus?).  Which leads to my favorite headline in this generous festival of P.R. for the GPS industry: "Company Deploys a New Kind of Star to Help Lead Police."

It's easy to be cynical about GPS Jesus, but personally, I look forward to the day when every single object and creature on God's green earth comes with a pre-installed tracking chip, thereby ushering in a utopian age of absolute visibility where "evil" can no longer exist because, quite literally, it has no place to hide.  To paraphrase Kent Brockman-- I, for one, welcome our new BlackOps OverLORDS.

The Nightmare (1917)

Francis Stevens
All Story Magazine (April 1917)
Bison Books (2004)

Another purported influence on H.P. Lovecraft, Francis Stevens was a stenographer in Minneapolis who wrote a number of weird adventure tales for the American pulps between 1917 and 1923 (after which, she seems to have simply disappeared, her whereabouts and activities generally unknown until her death in California in 1948).  People who know more about this stuff than I do claim her as the inventor of "dark fantasy," the genre that Lovecraft would come to dominate in the 1920s.  I don't know about that, inasmuch as William Hope Hodgson's fiction from the turn of the century strikes me as infinitely more creepy than this particular tale.

Like Hodgson's The Boats of the Glen Carrig (1907), The Nightmare is basically a weird island of terror story (as an Amazon e-pulp, it is in fact titled "Island of Nightmares").  A millionaire is aboard the Lusitania (yes, that Lusitania) looking forward to his European vacation.  After turning in for the night, he suddenly wakes up to find himself in the drink struggling to keep his head afloat.  He swims to land assuming it must be the Irish coast.  But no!  Instead he winds up caught in the struggle between two Russian princes on Joker Island, a rock somewhere in the Pacific that despite its name is no joke--deadly plants, giant spiders, huge furry bats, etc.  Most feared of all, however, are the "death cabbages."  Yes, the death cabbages.

Imagine you've been killed while on a distant adventure.  "What happened?" ask friends and family of your bereaved family.  "He was eaten by a death cabbage."  "Come again?"  "Yes, a death cabbage."  Stevens describes this foe as a giant florescent cabbage that behaves rather like a Venus fly trap, except much bigger and with the requisite tentacles for reaching out and grabbing ankles, ship masts, bi-planes, and so on.  I was curious if the "death cabbage" had been rendered by any pulp artists of the era but could find no such drawings.  I did discover, however, that there is now an extremely strong variety of pot called "Hindi Death Cabbage," which is also known to some as "Purple Monkey Balls." 

Here is my favorite moment in the book, only because it is so genuinely creepy.  As the band of adventurers walk across the island, they accidentally disturb the web of a giant spider residing at the edge of a cliff.  There is the familiar holy shit, it's a giant spider encounter, but everyone gets away unwebbed and undigested.  Later, the same adventurers have to escape under cover of night along the same path in the opposite direction.  They arrive safely at their destination, and Stevens writes:

Jones realized with pleasure that they had passed the great spider's trap without even being aware of it.  He had subconsciously dreaded more than anything else going past the dark incline, at the foot of which waited the thing of long, black, shining legs and protuberant eyes.

This is an inspired narrative solution.  We've already seen and battled the big spider, so there's no sense doing that all over again.  Stevens might also have had Jones reflect, during the journey itself, that the spider was out there somewhere...lurking.  But somehow it's even more unnerving to think about the party passing the spider in the dark and not even knowing it. 

The island has some variety of Unobtainium on it (in this case a powder that will turn lead to gold), and the princes are fighting over it to fund their diametrically opposed plans for Russia's future.  Also like The Boats of the Glen Carrig, a woman makes an appearance as an alleged romantic object, but "Jones" is far more committed to his intense, manly, honorable friendship with the "nihilist" prince Sergius.  While flying in the prince's airplane, a giant bat picks off Jones and drops him out in the ocean again, where he is soon rescued and taken to San Francisco.  But not before he forces the crew to return to Joker Island and find his friends --- but they have all vanished!  Everyone thinks Jones is crazy.

Is Jones crazy?  How did he get from the Lusitania to the Pacific, seemingly overnight?  Here we have some stupendous pulp chicanery, so stupid in fact that I'm not going to waste time recounting it.  But be assured, Jones and his handsome Prince do end up together in the end.

Ten Days in a Madhouse (1887)

Nellie Bly
Ian L. Munro, Pub.

This landmark of investigative journalism begins when ace-reporter Nellie Bly accepts a challenge from her editor to have herself committed to New York City's notorious asylum for the insane on Blackwell Island. This was the unfortunate destination for many men and women in the city who, understandably distraught at living in utter destitution, were brought before the court and sent to Bellvue for a psychiatric examination. From there, it was but a short boat ride to Blackwell's Island where many, without money or relations to save them, would spend the rest of their lives.

Bly realizes the only way to really get the inside scoop on the rumored abuse at the asylum is to have herself officially committed, thereby allowing her to go "undercover." She prepares for this by staring into a mirror and cultivating the look of the insane, which as this period illustration (right) demonstrates involves pulling one's hair and fending off hallucinations with the hand.  Once Bly has the insanity thing down, she then proceeds to a boarding house on the lower east side that caters to impoverished women with no place else to go.  There she does all she can to make residents think she might be unhinged. And it works.  Eventually the proprietor has her escorted to the police station, and from there to Bellvue.  Continuing the act at the hospital, Nellie soon has her ticket punched for a trip over to Blackwell.

But then things take a surprising turn.  Though rumors had circulated for years that the asylum was a pit of degradation, despair, and abuse, Bly finds that the institution is actually remarkably progressive in its treatment of destitute women judged "insane" by the court.  Upon entering the facility, every new "patient" is issued a comfy wool blanket and is served a hearty meal of roast beef, milk, and potatoes.  From there they are taken to their own private rooms where they find a new puppy waiting to greet them, the dogs supplied by a surprisingly early and innovative collaboration with New York's humane society.  The doctors, Bly finds, are both attentive and caring, while the nurses are all too happy to provide their ward guests with as much ice cream as they want, 24-hours a day.  The liberal ice cream service, known colloquially in the era as "crazy cones," had its basis in the celebrated "Weir Mitchell" cure (which prescribed high levels of milk fat and bed rest as a therapy for hysterical, insane, and otherwise problemmatic women).

After ten days in the "madhouse," Bly finds there really is no story there at all--at least in terms of neglect or maltreatment.  Admitting she has been bested, she reveals her true identity to the asylum staff during one of the hospital's regular outdoor picnics.  The head psychiatrist then has a surprise for Nellie.  The entire staff, doctors and nurses, knew from the very start that Nellie wasn't actually "insane" (given the rigor of the hospital's "intake" procedures), but had been humoring her curious as to why she had come to Blackwell.  After much laughter by all at this mutual masquerade, Bly goes on to defeat the asylum director in an apple-bobbing contest.

Over the following year, Bly wrote a number of humorous portraits of the many insane yet lovable companions she encountered during her time at the asylum.   Ten Days in a Madhouse thus remains famous today for introducing the convention of the happy human interest story that typically closes a news magazine or broadcast.

Panic Barbie

Fellow Patriarchs,

As I'm sure most of you are aware, the Mattel Corporation has recently issued a new Barbie doll--just in time for the Christmas holidays--that constitutes both a moral outrage and an existential threat to our culture at large.  I am speaking, of course, of the new "Video Girl" Barbie, a doll that features a tiny camera implanted in Barbie's necklace and an LCD screen embedded in her back.  The idea is to encourage little girls to make their own movies with the Barbie doll camera and then, using a simple software package, edit the movies and share them with friends online.  I am certain I do not need to point out just how monumental a threat this technology presents, not only to the little girls who might use it, but to the nation as a whole.  For it would seem a video camera is not the only thing "hidden" in this doll.  In the wrong hands, "Video Girl" Barbie has the potential to unleash a most heinous, disgusting, and destructive force, one that continues to prey on our youngest and most vulnerable citizens.  I am speaking, of course, about the monstrous threat posed by feminine creativity.

How our corporate brothers at Mattel allowed this to happen I do not know.  There will a thorough investigation in the new year, I assure you.  In the meantime, however, I think it would be prudent to review our current policy position on the entire Barbie project.  Toward this end, I have asked our graphics department to produce two panels that should better illustrate both the "ideal" use of Barbie and the potential hellscape presented by the introduction of "Video Girl" Barbie.

Below (fig. 1) we see the "ideal" Barbie relationship that we have worked so hard to institute over the past fifty years.  "Barbie" and girl-subject are locked in a mutually annihilating exchange of judgmental gazes organized around issues of grooming, fashion, popularity, appropriate behavior, and competition for boy attention.  As we know, over a period of time this helps undercut the confidence of the girl-subject, inculcating a low-grade paranoia that makes her both a docile political force and, more importantly, an ideal consumer of over-priced cosmetics and "new and improved" cleaning products.

                                                                             (fig. 1)

Compare this to the horrifying prospect below (fig. 2).  Here we see girl-subject now looking through Barbie rather than at Barbie, thereby forging potentially disruptive political alliances as girl subject begins using her own creativity to demystify the world of horseshit in which she must live.  Indeed, the act of cooperating with Barbie might even set a dangerous precedent for future acts of feminist solidarity, many of which could have a negative impact on our ability to enjoy alcoholic energy drinks, assorted instantiations of Taco Bell "beef" products, and the timeless wisdom of Two and a Half Men.  

                                                                            (fig. 2)

If you have been monitoring the media over the past week, I am sure you have been heartened by the aggressive disinformation campaign we have initiated that links "Video Barbie" with probable abuse by pedophiles.  We hope you will help spread this meme in conversation during the upcoming holiday festivities.  Remember: there is no positive outcome in girls learning to shoot and edit their own "movies."  The sooner the nation's girls return to staring at a Barbie that returns their gaze in silent judgment, the better.

Dick Johnson
President and CEO of pretty much everything in the world
Member, Hair Club for Men

The Case of the 16 Beans (1944)

Harry Stephen Keeler
Phoenix Press

Is Harry Stephen Keeler the poor man's James Joyce?  No, probably not, but this once forgotten now oddly compelling writer of "mysteries" from Chicago was certainly as obsessive about his language as Joyce.   Consider the opening paragraphs of The Case of the 16 Beans in which Keeler lays out the central enigma facing his "protagonist" Boyce Barkstone.

Boyce Barkstone leaned forward in his chair, aghast.
“And do you mean to tell me,” he repeated, unbelievingly, to the attorney seated facing him, “that my grandfather left me only a handful of beans—out of an estate of practically $100,000? And left the $100,000 itself—or nearly so—to that fool Academy for the Proving of Social Theories?”
“I’m sorry to say I do,” echoed the white-mustached man facing him in the bright high-up skyscraper office, and contemplating him gravely at the same time through round owl-like tortoise-shell eyeglasses. “For you’ve just read his will—or the carbon copy of it. With which at least, Boyce, I can say I had nothing to do. It was my partner who actually drew it up—for, like yourself, I’ve been out of town for a week, you know—though even he tried to argue your grandfather out of it—but to no avail.”
“My God!” commented Boyce Barkstone, passing a hand over his forehead and shoving away the lock of brown hair that persisted in falling downward over his steel grey eyes. “That’s—that’s what comes of knowing a few smart-alecky wisecracks—and handing ’em out—free gratis!”
Glumly he gazed out of the broad window next to the capacious chair in which he sat, which looked down on the morning traffic pouring, this sunny June morning, past 47th and Broadway, far far below; then, withdrawing his gaze, he contemplated himself glumly, across the thickly green carpeted and mahogany-furnished office, in the tall cheval mirror fastened to the closet door in the opposite wall, seeing only, however, just a young man of 28 or so, with steel grey eyes, who, not so terribly long ago, as it seemed to him, had been wearing a blue naval coast patrol uniform, but who today, now that the war was over and gone, was dressed in a brisk pepper-and-salt suit, and four-in-hand tie with a colorful plaid of just such a degree as a modern New Yorker might safely wear.
Oliver Tydings—of Tydings and Plenderleith, Attor­neys-at-Law—was, in the meantime, gazing puzzledly at Barkstone, tapping thoughtfully on his glass-topped desk with the fingers of one hand, adjusting with the other a small bronze ashtray to a better position, moving slightly the little onyx desk clock whose hands now stood at 9:01 o’clock.
“What on earth do you mean, Boyce?” he asked curiously. “About knowing ‘smart-alecky wisecracks’—and handing them out free gratis? Just because you’ve run your grandfather’s poky, stodgy little real-estate business for 6 years, there at the 242nd Street station of the Broadway Subway—or 6 years minus your year-and-a-quarter time out while serving on that Navy coast patrol vessel—doesn’t mean you can’t speak—as a young man might—any longer. Real-estate men aren’t supposed to be old fogies, are they? And besides, the matter has nothing whatsoever to do with your grandfather’s will, so far as I see it.”
“Oh, no?” was Boyce Barkstone’s sepulchral rejoin­der, the while he gazed oddly, in turn, at the other. “Well, listen to this little incident then.” He paused. “The last time I saw Grandfather alive—which, according to the date on this will, was the morning of the day he drew the will—I said, inadvertently, and not knowing I was addressing him—it was a beastly comedy of errors, understand—a ghastly mistake—a case of—of two other men, as you might put it—anyway, I said to him—inadvertently and unwittingly: ‘Nuts to you, you old fool!’ ”
“Oh-oh!” echoed the attorney. And gazed, understanding written on his face for the first time, at a large white tag, attached to a tiny white cotton tobacco bag sealed with wax, on his desk, the uppermost side of which tag bore handwriting which read:
Beans to YOU, sonnyboy, as per my will!
“And so that’s what’s back of his bitter bequest, eh, Boyce?” he echoed. “That you’d said to him—to your own grandfather—who had befriended you—‘Nuts to you’—and called him an old fool to boot?” He frowned deprecatingly, though still puzzledly, unbelievingly. “And so you said that to him, in the morning? And he comes straight down here, in the late afternoon, and makes out a will which leaves to you—”
It's all a misunderstanding, of course, as Boyce did not in fact say "nuts to you, you old fool!" to his kindly grandfather, thus incurring the elder's wrath and initiating a vengeful rewriting of the will so as to respond "beans to YOU, sonnyboy" from beyond the grave.  So what did happen?  That is "The Case of the 16 Beans," or at least half of it, as there is a second plot equally bizarre that somewhat intersects with the bean enigma.

This is all classic Keeler: a shaggy dog story so shaggy that it creates even shaggy dog sentences;  a relentless lack of plot; endless rambling descriptions, many of them utterly pointless; characters who remain on the phone gathering plot details for chapters at a time; the odd character names; the constant insertion of obvious "back story" into seemingly spontaneous dialogue; the OCD-like specificity of detail (Boyce here doesn't read the will itself, but a "carbon-copy" of it); and so on.

Keeler is often described as a "bad" or at least "weird" writer of mysteries, but I don't think that's fair to his actual intentions.  While his engimas are insanely complicated and often ridiculous, the main attraction for writing seems more in the play of comic language (including a staggeringly insensitive commitment to "ethnic" dialogue).  There is no real mystery in any of his books (that I've read, anyway); in fact, this book is called "The Case of the 16 Beans" despite the fact that no one involved is really a detective of any kind.  There is no "case," just a young man left holding a puzzling bag of beans. 

Why read him then?  Within all the convoluted sentences and actionless plots that go nowhere there emerge little nuggets of inspired insanity.  Here, for example, we discover that the grandfather, needing 16 different beans to enact his plan, finds them at a new high-rise shopping facility in downtown Manhattan called "the Seediteria."  One character hates the Chinese so much he devotes his fortune to buying up the land beneath "Chop Suey" restaurants just so he can close them down.  Another clings superstitiously to a copy of a book called The Way Out by a Mr. Highsmith because he thinks it's actually a book called The Way by an author named "Out" published by Highsmith.  Follow me? 

Rumor has it Keeler was briefly institutionalized as a young man.  His writing does little to contradict this suspicion.

That Dude in Your American Literature Class with the Backwards Baseball Cap Reviews “The House of Mirth” by Edith Wharton

This story has an “ironical” title and takes place way back when ladies had to worry all the time about what they said or did because it might make people think they were slutty.  Our hero’s name is Lilly Barth and this is a tale of how she totally got screwed by all kinds of shit that wasn’t really her fault. Like at the very beginning she decides to go chill for a couple of hours with her friend Sheldon back at his pad and even though they don’t even come close to hooking up or anything, she gets all freaked out when this rich Jew sees her coming out of Sheldon’s apartment building (because he will tell everyone she is a slut). But Lilly and the Jew both act like no one saw anything anyway, which kind of makes things even worse.

After that we find out that Lilly, who is looking to land a rich husband, keeps getting conned by all her super-rich friends into playing a game called “Bridge” even though she doesn’t have as much money and so when she loses it’s a big deal because she won’t have enough money for all the dresses and hats and make-up she needs to catch that rich husband I was talking about.  I saw this as a kind of “catch-22” for Lilly because if she doesn’t play bridge she can't hang out with all the rich dudes who might marry her, but if she does play bridge she might lose all her money and end up having to wear a potato sack or something which makes it tough to attract the best rich dudes. She almost gets to marry this one guy who seems really boring even though he has lots of loot. She's pretty sure she can put the hooks into him at church one morning but oversleeps and ends up spending the afternoon hanging again with Sheldon.  But that's okay because she knows she's so hot she can still reel in the rich guy later.  But no dice, because the boring rich guy decides to marry a girl not nearly so hot but better at going to church and reading.

About this point you might be thinking to yourself why don’t Lilly and Sheldon cut to the chase and get together since they obviously have a thing for each other? But at this point before Lilly gets really poor, which happens later, Lilly still thinks she has a shot at some guys who are a lot richer.

At any rate, after her blowing her chances with the rich boring guy, Lilly kind of becomes friends with this married dude who promises to invest her money in the stock market. At first this seems really cool because Lilly really needs the money, but then we find out the married dude is just giving her the money and expects some sex in return. But Lilly tells him to back-off, dude, I really thought you were investing my money—not paying me to have some sex on down the road.  But now everyone starts thinking she’s a whore even though she isn’t having sex with anyone (that we know of). And then somehow Sheldon sees her coming out of the married guy’s house, and even though nothing happened again (just like at Sheldon’s place earlier), he gets all mad about it and decides to go to Monte Carlo and give up on Lilly.

This is where the second part starts a few months later where we find out Lilly is now hanging on a yacht with more of her super-rich friends. But they never seem to do any cool yacht stuff like fish or ski or swim but mostly just go to shore and eat expensive dinners and try to get introduced to some European big wigs.  Then, even though Lilly is mostly minding her own business, she gets right in the middle of a big fight between this old rich married couple and the wife throws her off the yacht, which is like a total disgrace because its as if the rich wife is saying Lilly can’t be trusted around anything with pants on—even though Lilly didn’t do anything at all.  So Lilly comes back home thinking, oh well, at least when my rich aunt dies I’ll have enough money to open my own hat shop or something even if I don’t find a rich husband. To kill some time she drives to Alaska with a bunch of new rich people who also have a lot of money but apparently not the right kind because this is a big comedown for Lilly it seems. Then her aunt finally does croak but Lilly totally gets screwed in the will because even her own aunt thinks Lilly is kind of a slut now (when she was still alive).

After Lilly loses out on the will things start to get really shitty for her.  She has to take a job helping this stupid younger richer girl get dressed every morning so that girl can find a rich husband, just like Lilly was trying to do a bit earlier in the story.   But even though Lilly is just trying to pay the bills and is off the rich-guy market all the super rich people still seem to hate her guts.  Which reminds me, Lilly also has a big stack of intimidating letters she could use to blackmail the main bitch that’s making everything especially shitty for her, but she keeps not using them for her righteous revenge.  I think this is supposed to make us like Lilly more because even though she’s pretty much a prime donna she still doesn't want to rat on people no matter how rich or mean they are.

After she quits helping the stupid younger girl to get dressed, Lilly has to take an even worse job making hats—which is really embarrassing for her because it’s so “working class” and she’s never been around people that actually do anything.  But she needs the money bad and figures maybe one day she can still open that hat-shop she was thinking about.  But all the other “hat girls” laugh at her because she sucks so bad at making hats, even though she was totally sure she had real talent for it.

Obviously by now she’s come a long way from her days chasing the rich dudes because she's living in a crappy apartment with dirty curtains and roaches and mice where all she can do for fun is sit around looking at all the awesome dresses she used to wear when she was richer and hotter. And then she even gets fired from her hat-making job and has no money left at all. She gets so hard-up she even thinks about marrying the rich Jew from earlier, but he’s totally moved on at this point and tells her even though he still thinks she’s great he needs a wife that won't screw up his plan to be even richer and more powerful.  Meanwhile she sees Sheldon a couple more times and you keep thinking one of them is going to pipe up and say, hey, let’s just ignore all this stupid stuck-up rich shit and move in together, but it never happens because even though we kind of feel sorry for Lilly what with having to make hats and everything, she’s still kind of a stuck-up rich bitch at heart. Then one night she can’t sleep and takes too much of some old-timey drug and dies. The next morning Sheldon finally gets his shit together and comes over to tell Lilly he loves her, but it’s too late.  Because she’s dead. The end.

I really, really hated this book. If everyone back then had just said what they mean and meant what they said they’d all have been a lot happier. And even if people were going to play all these mind games with each other about who is "in" and who is "out," Lilly should have said something to Sheldon a lot earlier about how broke she was because then she’d still be alive today.

In my opinion, the ladies have it much better today because even if you see a chick doing “the walk of shame” in the dorm nobody really cares all that much because you figure she and some dude hooked up but so what?   Because we are smarter now and not repressed its really not that big a deal to admit you have had sex because everyone knows everyone wants to hook up and it doesn’t make sense to lie about it all the time.

The Boats of the Glen Carrig (1907)

William Hope Hodgson
Chapman and Hall, Ltd.
(now in public domain)

William Hope Hodgson has the dubious honor of being known primarily as a "major" influence on a "minor" author, in this case H.P. Lovecraft.  Hodgson also delved into the "cosmic horror" typically associated with Lovecraft, most notably in Hodgson's extraordinarily creepy novel of 1908, The House on the Borderland.  The Boats of the Glen Carrig dates from the previous year and remains wholly within the preternatural--but this makes it no less creepy, let me assure you.

The set-up is simple enough.  It's 1757 and the Glen Carrig has hit a rock.  We open with our narrator aboard a lifeboat in search of rescue.  Almost immediately they find an island and begin their way up a creek looking for help.  Hodgson's talent for uncanny narration is apparent from the very beginning--the island is eerily flat, depressingly so, pocked by a few scrubby trees that may or may not be capable of walking around at night and eating people.  They leave quickly, primarily because the vibe is just too overwhelming.  This sets the overall tone for the book: Verne's Mysterious Island as interpreted through a lens of paranoia and depression. 

After the obligatory storm at sea section, we arrive at the heart of the book.  Their boat damaged, the men wash up on a freaky island where they find themselves under instantaneous and escalating attack by the following:

                                   1.  ambulatory toadstools
                                   2.  gigantic "devil fish" (essentially huge octopi)
                                   3.  humongous crabs
                                   4.  the "weed men"

Burning up the island's valley pretty much takes care of the man-eating toadstools, while staying out of the water greatly reduces the odds of being eaten by a devil-fish.  The big crabs are more annoying than dangerous, leaving the "weed men" as the crew's primary adversary.

The weed-men are worthy foes.  Described by Hodgson as giant white leeches with "human-like" faces that leave behind a trail of pungent slime, the "weed men" are on the attack any time the crew stupidly lets the bonfire grow dim.  Like much horror of this era, most of the book centers on the lingering dread of the weed men (although they do mount a few spectacular attacks).  Hodgson has a real talent for the uncanny effect of the indexical marker of horror lurking "somewhere out there."  For example, at one point in the book, the crew has to deploy a large rope down a hillside toward the beach.  Each night, a man has to stand watch and periodically check the tautness of the rope.  If the watchman feels any movement in the rope, he has to sound the general alarm...because it's a sign that the slimy leech creatures are undulating up the line.  I'm still creeped out just thinking about it.

So many uncanny and disgusting things are happening in The Boats of the Glen Carrig that there is little time for "character development."  Which makes the ending all the more surprising.  Throughout the adventure, our narrator works under the supervision of the "Bo'Sun," the large strapping sailor in command of the lifeboat.  Every so often, we get a hint of the narrator's pride in impressing the "Bo'Sun" though an act of skill or bravery.  And at one point, when the narrator is "feeling gloomy," the "Bo'Sun" seeks him out and does what he can to cheer up the young man.  In short, they become the dynamic duo that saves everyone from death.  Toward the end, a girl is introduced into the picture, rather irritatingly and implausibly given all the homoerotic bonding that has preceded her in the story. Once safe and back in civilization (i.e. England), the narrator, we discover, is now married to the young maid he met during his adventure.  But we also learn the following in the final paragraph of the story (spoiler alert, obviously)

Now one further thing there is of which I must tell. Should any, chancing to trespass upon my estate, come upon a man of very mighty proportions, albeit somewhat bent by age, seated comfortably at the door of his little cottage, then shall they know him for my friend the bo'sun; for to this day do he and I fore-gather, and let our talk drift to the desolate places of this earth, pondering upon that which we have seen--the weed-continent, where reigns desolation and the terror of its strange habitants. And, after that, we talk softly of the land where God hath made monsters after the fashion of trees. Then, maybe, my children come about me, and so we change to other matters; for the little ones love not terror.


This novel was originally published in 1907, but has been reprinted in various formats several times since.  I read a kindle version--but be forewarned, some of the many "free" e-text versions cut off the book's secondary title in which we learn the following crucial information:

Being an account of their Adventures in the Strange places of the Earth, after the foundering of the good ship Glen Carrig through striking upon a hidden rock in the unknown seas to the Southward. As told by John Winterstraw, Gent., to his Son James Winterstraw, in the year 1757, and by him committed very properly and legibly to manuscript.

The illustration above is from the story's reprinting in a 1947 issue of Famous Fantastic Mysteries.  I have used this for the graphic in this piece because, let's face it, it is without a doubt the most awesome.

God Made Kittens (1980)

Marian Bennett
Standard Publishing

It is the author's opinion that God made kittens, primarily because they are so playful and cute.  As further evidence of their divine creation, the author considers how kittens come in various sizes and colors.  Even though a kitten "sometimes goes where he shouldn't be" (boxes, bookcases, and trees are offered as examples), this does not seem to anger his creator on high.  We also learn that God made the Manx cat "to have no tail at all"--but there is no speculation as to why this is so.  All in all a very "pro-kitten" argument; however, there is some acknowledgment of the kitten's more sinister underside in the couplet: "Kittens have sharp teeth, and tongues that feel like sand / When a kitten licks you, it tickles your hand."

Celebrity Style Psycho Simulation

The current issue of Vanity Fair features a piece by Nancy Jo Sales titled "The Quaid Conspiracy."  By all accounts, Randy Quaid and his wife Evi (above, in recent mug shots) appear to be in the grips of a classic folie à deux, convinced that a secret cabal called "the Hollywood Star Whackers" have targeted them--not just for whispered insults at various L.A. hot spots--but for actual assassination.  The "Whackers," in their mutually fevered mind, have already taken out David Carradine and Heath Ledger, and are now working a slow campaign of extermination on Lindsay Lohan (if you are looking for a cultural, economic, or even Masonic "logic" linking Carradine with Lohan with the Quaids, sadly it is not to be found in the VF piece).

If we are to believe the reporter's set-up for the interview, the Quaids are now seeking asylum in British Columbia and spend many nights living in their car to elude their stalkers.  Writes Sales: Their car, a black Prius, was crammed with stuff—clothes, coats, shoes, papers, a pillow, blankets, and an excitable Australian cattle dog named Doji, who was hoarse from barking while he was in the pound when his owners were being detained by Canadian immigration. The car smelled of fast food and dog pee and Randy’s cigars.  Canada, it turns out, is only a compromise solution for their growing paranoia.  Evi Quaid notes at one point in the interview that the couple had tried to drive to Siberia, but “couldn’t figure out how to get there” (raising an interesting question: could a Prius make it across the Aleutian ice bridge?  Could be some real sponsorship opportunities there).

Sounds pretty desperate; that is, if any of this is actually true. 
Joaquin Phoenix's extended portrayal of a crazy person--a two year turn as a "former actor" turned doughy rapper that culminated in I'm Still Here (2010)--has certainly raised the bar on the simulation of celebrity psychosis.  There is still some ambiguity as to whether or not Phoenix was in fact "losing it" at the time of his infamous appearance on The David Letterman Show, and if in turn the whole "performance art" angle was simply a way to rehabilitate a genuine nervous collapse.  Skeptics, on the other hand, point out that people undergoing mental disintegration typically do not have a documentary crew follow them everywhere they go (although the jury is still out on the three Kardashians.  Statistically, at least one of them is liable to crack on camera, God willing).

Of course, Vanity Fair wants us to believe the Quaids have gone completely insane because that would be oddly comforting to the typical Vanity "I really only have an intellectual interest in celebrity bullshit" Fair reader.  The spectacularly crazy celebrity is infinitely more interesting than the garden-variety schizophrenic mumbling to himself at the bus stop, inasmuch as star-insanity can be gleefully consumed as a form of punishment for wanton hubris (of fame, talent, money, etc.).  The untreated and wholly anonymous schizophrenic left to wander the streets, unnoticed by Vanity Fair, is just depressing--no logic, no lesson. 

Why would a celebrity simulate insanity?  Perhaps they believe it will relaunch a stalled career by virtue of their spectacular commitment and demonstrable talent in playing crazy for a few months (and really, this is no more a hardship than De Niro getting fat for Raging Bull).  And to the Quaids' credit, if this is all an act, apparently it is one convincing enough to have compelled Andrea Canning of Good Morning America to ask them outright, "Are either of you mentally unstable, schizophrenic, or on drugs?" Then again, how hard is it to fool morning television fluff-droids?

Or perhaps these occasional fits are a genuine insanity born of a particularly brutal high/low collision between Hollywood and "High Art."  Phoenix, after all, doesn't call his turn as psycho-rapper a "joke" or a "put-on," but refers to it instead as "performance art."  Meanwhile Evi Quaid, we are told, is a former L.A. "It" girl "who once modeled nude for Helmut Newton and put up a show in a gallery in L.A. consisting of giant photographs of her pierced vagina."  How better to say I live in Hollywood but am not of Hollywood (somehow, I doubt a similar crisis will ever confront Rob Schneider). 

Probably only the Quaids know if they are actually crazy or just bluffing (of course if they are actually crazy, they would be the first to say they are not crazy, as they are in fact saying).  What is most interesting about the Vanity Fair interview, however, is not the article itself but the accompanying photo taken by Sam Jones (below).

The image is less a candid shot of desperate fugitives on the run than a studied publicity photo of eccentric celebrity at play.  And why not? Regardless of whether or not the Quaids' really believe the "Hollywood whackers" are out to get them, they need all the publicity they can get--either to help save their lives (by drawing attention to the whacker menace) or to keep the Quaid name out there once they bounce back from this bout of "temporary insanity."

So many details: The empty whiskey bottle as a masculine emblem of "renegade" status, Quaid sockless and smoking like a Hemingway pausing between chapters.  The Jim Beam paired nicely with
Evi's more elegant and curvaceously feminine bottle of red wine, echoed in her advanced presentation of "come hither" couch languor.  The ubiquitous Hollywood shades, Quaid's aviators folded neatly on the side table with Evi's more "arty" Euro-specs on the coffee table.  A room that says sophisticated rustic exile rather than Motel-6 desperation (it's as if they dug up the old "Great Northern" flats from Twin Peaks for this shoot)--a faithful dog on the floor completes the image of gentrified hunting lodge/artists' retreat.

And then there are the clothes.  Vanity Fair exists to tell us what people are wearing, even if they are only a week or two away from exclusively modeling straight jackets.   Reporter Sales thus informs us that Quaid "was wearing Buddy Holly glasses, a blue shirt, an Armani blazer, and a purple tie; he looked slimmer than in years past and surprisingly stylish for a man on the run" (yes, "surprisingly" stylish).  Evi Quaid, meanwhile, appears to have taken the opportunity of a VF spread to dust off the old Helmut Newton fetish boots and flash some 40-something skin.  Looking at this photo, one has to ask: are they genuinely on the run in fear of their lives, or are they in Vancouver to negotiate a new production of Einstein on the Beach?

I'd like to think the Quaids are well and truly psychotic at the moment.  If not, we have just another publicity "stunt" involving actors and their fame-satellites doing whatever they can to be noticed in an increasingly competitive fame economy.  But if they are genuinely crazy, we are confronted with a more terrifying prospect than insanity itself: the performance of celebrity fabulousness is now so ingrained, so virulent, that even those in the grips of raging insanity are able to pull it off effortlessly.  In Sunset Boulevard (1950), Norma Desmond demonstrated that a "star" could still play a "star" on-screen even as reality collapsed around her.  This picture of the Quaids, on the other hand, argues that "celebrities" are now wholly proficient in performing fame's "backstage" drama of envy, leisure, and desire even while allegedly living in a piss-soaked Prius and suffering acute paranoid delusions.  If they really are crazy, that is one truly disturbing picture, even more so than the candid "mug shot" of Frances Farmer typically offered as evidence of her classical studio insanity. 

In other and most likely related news, the custodians of "sanity" over at the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (or the DSM as it is known by most) have announced the next edition, due in 2013, will remove Narcissistic Personality Disorder as a recognized psychiatric condition.  What took them so long?!

The Story of Synanon (1963)

Daniel Casriel, M.D.
Book Co. of America

Mostly laudatory account of Synanon from its early days as a radical intervention for drug addicts (and before it became more infamous as a weird Californian cult).  Officially launched in 1958, Synanon originally provided addicts an opportunity to live and work under one roof as therapy for combating their addictions.  Like all organizations that are (or eventually become) cults, Synanon depended on a rather drastic "intake" procedure that involved breaking down the addict/inductee's sense of identity (they would eventually require all members to shave their heads, which landed many of them parts in George Lucas' sci-fi "student-like" film, THX-1138 (1971).  Philip K. Dick, in his persona of Horselover Fats, would later blame Synanon for the suicide of a close friend in his hallucinated novel Valis (1981). 

Here we get an early account of just how brutally abusive "the Game" (Synanon's name for the group humiliation of new members) could be.  In one extended account, Synanon founder Chuck Dederich launches into a lesbian couple seeking treatment (the fact that one member of this couple is transgendered, wearing a suit and tie and using the men's room, seems to drive him particularly insane).  Abuse is heaped onto both until they agree to end their "charade"and act like "ladies."  Unbelievable.

Like Scientology, Synanon gradually became more paranoid and reclusive as an organization, sending out a squad called "the Imperial Marines" to deal with those who left or badmouthed the group.  Also like other cults, Synanon at some point began reassigning spouses and engaging in other psycho-sexual hijinx.  Still, as of 1963, they were "mainstream" enough to earn the endorsement of TV jack-of-too-many-trades Steve Allen. 

Tax problems led to the organization's dissolution in the 1990s and Dederich died in 1997.

The Evil Guest (1895)

J. Sheriden Le Fanu
Downey and Co. 

Formerly well-off misanthrope, Marston, has blown most of his money and is now reduced to walking around his crumbling estate in a foul mood, generally disgusted with his wife, neighbor, and the local minister.  A French governess, on loan from Uncle Silas apparently, takes care of the family's daughter.  Marston is none too pleased when an acquaintance from his days at Eaton practically invites himself to stay at Gray Forest for a few days.  Said acquaintance is murdered one night under vaguely uncanny circumstances within a "locked room."  Three general enigmas: 1. How did the "guest" really die? ; 2.  What's the French governess up to?; 3. What does Marston know and not know about all of this?

Despite the promising title, this does not quite rank with Le Fanu's other more dementedly inspired work.  In an attempt to retard the various enigmas, Le Fanu resorts to having characters whisper shocking revelations to one another, right in front of the hapless reader (which just strikes me as rude, or at least inelegant).  The aforementioned Uncle Silas remains the one to read if you're just reading one (Le Fanu "novel" that is). 

The Great Video Game Craze (1983)

Those with an interest in the history of video games should click on the image above to read Disney's 1983 account of "The Great Video Game Craze."  Explanations are offered as to why video games are so fun, and predictions are made as to what will soon be possible in future video games.  There is also a quick plug for Disney's then recent abomination, Tron (1982), which I gather is threatening to return to screens soon in the form of a remake.

CB Angel (1977)

Larry Adcock
Popular Library

Yancy goes by the handle "Lone Ranger."  His pal Banks, a full-blooded Sioux Indian, is known as "Tonto."  Tonto and the Lone Ranger met in 'Nam where they got each other out of a lot of jams in the shit. Back in the states, they've kept the partnership going as truckers, haulin' freight wherever freight needs a haulin'.  Then one day....

CB Angel is another artifact of the surprisingly deep field of "CB Radio" culture that thrived in mid-70s America (1977 was a significant year for this "cult" with the release of both Handle with Care and Citizen's Band) in the theaters).  Long before there was Face Book, the lonely, alienated, and otherwise disenfranchised tech-head looked to the CB's "walkie talkie" 2-way conversations as the basis for a whole new lifestyle.  Much of this also had to do with America's continuing fascination with "Trucker" culture (now dead, for the most part, except for the relatively recent resurgence in "ironic" foam-billed trucker hats in Silverlake, Wicker Park, Williamsburg, and other hipster magnets).

In CB Angel, Yancy and Banks are enjoying the good life--eating lots of pancakes, bedding waitresses, engaging in constant homoerotic semi-racist ball-breaking about each other's racial features--when they get mixed up with a mob shipment of tobacco.  Various mysterious figures are constantly ambushing them in an attempt to steal the load--but Yancy and Banks' Vietnam training typically makes short work of any goons sent their way.  Throughout their cross-country adventure, they receive oracle-like advice on the CB from "Foxy Lady," generating two enigmas:  1. who's trying to steal their stuff? and 2. who is Foxy Lady and what is her relationship to all of this?

The CB/trucker phenomenon would be over only two years later with the arrival of B.J. and the Bear on NBC.  The show followed very much the same partner set-up as CB Angel, only it replaced the full-blooded Sioux Indian character with a chimpanzee.

Uma Googled

Breaking news everywhere this morning that police have finally apprehended Uma Thurman's longtime stalker, Jack Jordan, a "diagnosed" schizophrenic currently living in Maryland.  Jordan had already been convicted several times of harassing Thurman, and the actress has had a restraining order against Jordan since 2008.  "My intention was for a kind of relationship to develop between us," Jordan stated at the hearing, adding that he also realized he had maybe "overstepped" certain legal boundaries (like sending Thurman a photo of a "decapitated bride" and a card that read "my hands should be on your body at all times").  Today's arrest stems from two phone calls Jordan placed to Thurman's personal assistant in recent days. 

Celebrity stalking goes on all the time, of course, and it's always big news because it so often collides two favorite stock characters of the modern imagination:  the anonymous "psycho" and the fabulous movie star.  This pairing, a co-dependent relationship if ever there was one, remains eternally fascinating because it allows us, for a moment at least, to consider our own twisted investment in the world of celebrity.  The psycho/starlet pairing in particular rewrites the fame economy's general reliance on envy and desire in the brutal, attention-grabbing language of random psychotic violence.  The manufacture of sexual celebrity has always been about cultivating the fantasy that "your plebeian hands should be on star-X's body at all times."  Like the fascination with most psychotic acts, public interest in the "crazy" stalker stems in large part from witnessing the spectacular deviance of a fellow "nobody" who has lost the ability to effectively interiorize this mass-inculcated fantasy, an individual who finally decides to become pro-active in answering the culture's deafening call to be of or near the rich, famous, and beautiful.  After the overloading of fetish signifiers that marked Thurman's most famous turn in Pulp Fiction (Louise Brooks' bob, sexy smoking, the V for victory dance moves), it's a wonder more men of this generation haven't lost their minds and camped out on her doorstep.

For a lucky few who are not, like Jordan, a schizophrenic ex-English major living at home with Mom, disposable income can be harnessed to sanctioned fantasy structures in the form of the "Uma Thurman" figurine pictured above, yours at auction (along with a figurine of that rival male who danced with her at Jack Rabbit Slim's) for around $4000.

If there is any depressingly corroded silver lining to these celebrity stalking stories, it is the opportunity provided criminologists to remind us of just how high the stalking of the non-fabulous remains in the nation--leading perhaps to an Us Weekly theory of stalker fascination: Celebrities are "just like us" (and we're "just like them") because now anyone can have a creepy weirdo initiate a wholly delusional relationship over a period of months and years.

Which makes the "hook" for the arrest of Thurman's stalker all the more interesting.  Here is a line that is featured prominently in much of the reporting today:

"When he was caught, Jordan was at his computer, with “Uma Thurman” typed into a Google search."

CNN went even more hysterical by adding that authorities arrested Jordan "just before he could hit the return key" (I promise you, these were the very words that came out of Kiran Chetry's mouth).

I don't know what authorities, or we the anxious public, are supposed to think might have happened if Jordan had completed his dastardly plan to google Uma Thurman's name for information about the actress (because, after all, I'm sure he had NEVER done this before).  Perhaps recognizing Jordan's fragile mental state, they simply wanted to protect him from the trauma of discovering that Thurman's film Motherhood made a total of $131 in the U.K. during its opening (and presumably only) weekend. 

Adding the "he was on the verge of googling her name!" angle to the story, it seems to me, preys on two seemingly antithetical and yet related Internet fantasies.  On the one hand, we've all been taught to be frightened and eternally vigilant about protecting our "cyber-self" from various entities that may not have our best interests in mind.  Here, perhaps, we are to believe that in his 321,877th Google search of Thurman's name, Jordan would at last find that obscure post containing all the entry codes for her Manhattan apartment--luckily, the police got there just in time!

And yet, Jordan's Googling of Thurman (lovely that this new verb rhymes so well visually with "ogling") is also a reminder of the entire parasocial empire of the Internet, much of which revolves around this very same silent and vaguely shame-inducing search for those who may be searching for us, for those with whom one was once intimate but now know (if at all) in one of the most odd of all parasocial relationships.  Facebook, as so many have noted, is rife with both the nostalgia and trauma attending these once intensely real but now primarily imaginary relationships (as The Social Network points out, Facebook was devised in large part so that college students could know the real-time current "relationship status" of various lust-objects on campus--for older generations who have taken to the site, it is more a strangely promiscuous and occasionally confusing history of one's past romantic life).

You've probably seen sites advertised like the one below:

Some of these ads are simply pathetic--so far I've yet to be duped, contrary to the sidebar come-hithers on my Facebook page, that there is apparently a 25-year-old lingerie model desparately "searching" for me on the Internet.   Craven business interests aside,  however, the poignancy of this basic cyber-impulse remains.  Is there a more wistful, bittersweet domain name than  It evokes one of our distant Neolithic ancestors, lost in the woods, crying out in a desperate attempt to reconnect with his or her tribe.  I am lost, please come find me.  There are many uses for such a site, I'm sure, including monitoring for potential stalkers--but how many more people take to such services out of a loneliness that the Internet itself somehow makes worse, an attempt to use the trace of a Google search, not necessarily to "reconnect" with someone, but simply as a sort of melancholy comfort that someone out there, maybe someone who was once important in your life, has also taken a moment to "think" about you (even if only in the form of an idle Google search). 

Jordan's "relationship" with Thurman is wholly psychotic, of course, and the news is playing the "he was on the verge of googling her name!" angle as if this whole affair was a techno-thriller.  Perhaps that layer of suspense--the "last-second" apprehension of Jordan just before he hit the return key--is necessary if only to distract us from the entirely banal and relatively sad implications of our own unnervingly similar use of the search engine--alone and with plenty of time to kill, the tiny stalker in all of us staring dully into the computer to see if anyone out there actually still shares even the most vestigial memories of our formerly meaningful personal/emotional connections--you know, those that existed before both the Internet and the fame economy reminded us (once again...but anew!) that our "identity" is always incomplete, elsewhere, and very much "stolen."

Breaking update on the terrifying link between psychopathic criminals and newish telecommunications technologies:  Charles Manson has been caught with a cell phone under his prison bunk.  Read more here, if you dare.